This quick recipe was given to me by my mother, who got it from an Italian
neighbor in 1952. What sets this recipe apart from the run-of-the-mill recipes
is that it yields delightful-tasting meatballs that are very soft. So soft that
when I make this recipe, we spread our Italian bread with the meatballs, as well
as eating the meatballs with the spaghetti.
1/4 cup good olive oil.
A big, fat sweet yellow onion (do not substitute small yellow
ones; they taste awful).
Garlic. I use eight cloves, smashed or run through the garlic press.
2 bay leaves.
As much fresh or dried basil* as you care for.
A large can of very good peeled crushed tomatoes.
A medium can of tomato sauce.
A small can of tomato paste.
1 lb. ground beef (or 1/2 pound ground beef and 1/2 pound ground pork).
1 cup good quality coarse breadcrumbs (hopefully that you've made
yourself from a crusty two-day-old loaf).
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated finely
A pound of thick spaghetti (preferably "number 12" from DeCecco or
Barilla), cooked until al dente (chewy) in salted boiling water and
In a large frying pan with a lid, sweat the onion and the bay leaf in the
olive oil and add the garlic half-way through. The garlic should not be browned
(it will become bitter). Add the basil, and salt and pepper to taste. This will
make your kitchen smell just wonderful.
Separate the onion-garlic mixture into halves. Leave half in the pan, making
sure to leave in the bay leaves, and place the other half in a bowl. Add the
three cans of tomato products to the pan and simmer, covered, on low heat. Stir
this mixture occasionally.
Place the meat, breadcrumbs, egg and cheese in the bowl with the onion-garlic
mixture. Mix thoroughly and shape into balls about 3" in diameter.
After the tomato sauce has been simmering about a half an hour (the longer
the better), add the balls to the sauce, raw, and simmer an additional half hour
to an hour, covered. You must stir this mixture to keep it from scorching.
Check the salt and pepper and serve over the cooked spaghetti. Pass more of
the Pecorino, or use Parmigiano Reggiano or Asiago. Serve with good Italian or
French bread. Serves 4.
In case you're wondering: there's no oregano in this recipe for a
reason. Oregano overpowers this dish.
*A note about basil: At least in the U.S., it's possible to find fresh basil year-round nearly everywhere. It's even in the supermarkets in the dead of winter where I live. Fresh basil lends a completely different flavor to foods than does the dried product. And the neat thing about basil is that one really can't use too much of it!